Maggie Howell used self-hypnosis during the home birth of her first baby, Joseph:
My thoughts about hypnosis and 'mind over matter' really began when a good friend gave birth in a small barn next to her house. It was her first baby and was technically a difficult birth (4 hours for the second stage!). What really struck me was that she had not felt the need for any painkillers as, with each contraction, her partner would describe somewhere or something they had done together. Effectively her mind was focusing on something other than the 'pain'. It was my husband who suggested going on a self Hypnosis course, as he in the past he had used of Hypnosis to help with a variety of things. I was a little sceptical in the beginning, but decided that it could only help as I was determined to have a natural home birth.
I went on a 2 day course when I was 6 months' pregnant. I was the only pregnant woman on the course - the others were there for a whole variety of reasons from fear of presenting to giving up smoking to stress relief. Prior to the course my only real experience of Hypnosis was watching a stage Hypnotist make people act like chickens and eat raw onions. I therefore assumed that there was something mystical about it and that I would close my eyes and would be put in a semi-conscious state in which my problems would be solved.
After the first few times I doubted I had been Hypnotised as I just felt very relaxed and was fully aware of my surroundings. As I found out that is exactly what hypnosis is. There is nothing magical about it. It is simply being in a day dream rather than in a conscious state. It is the same as driving a car when you realise that you even though you have been driving carefully, you can't actually remember most of the journey or reading a passage of a book and finding you can't remember the story and have to re-read it. That is exactly the same as Hypnosis - you are having a chat with you sub conscious while you conscious is fully aware of what you are doing.
My doubts were blown out of the water when we put the Hypnosis to the test. I went into my 'daydream' and told my mind that my left arm would be completely free of pain, bleeding, bruising, swelling and soreness for the next 24 hours. We repeated this several times and then came out of my daydream. The trainer then quickly, easily and PAINLESSLY stuck a large nappy pin through my arm! My amazement was even greater when, after taking photos and oohhing and arhhing at each others arms, he took the pin out of my arm and there was not even a drop of blood! (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME -you need to be taught how to safely go into and come out of Hypnosis). I felt amazed and the power of what I had just done slowly began to dawn on me. If I could anaesthetise my arm then surely I could have a comfortable birth without the need for painkillers.
Over the next few weeks I wrote my self-Hypnosis script or 'programme' for my ideal birth. It included loads of triggers for relaxation such as every time I had a contraction I would feel more and more relaxed, every time my husband held my hand I would feel more and more comfortable etc. I envisaged every last detail including my cervix opening, my baby feeling comfortable and safe, my muscles expanding, holding my baby in my arms etc. Once I was happy with the programme I recorded it onto tape with some soothing music in the background.
During the last 6 weeks I took myself into Hypnosis every day and listened to the programme I had recorded on my tape recorder. The visualisation was so strong that I would often come out of Hypnosis in tears as if I had actually been through the experience of holding my precious baby. As the day came closer, I got more and more excited and was really looking forward to the birth. I was so keen to find out if the Hypnosis would work and in a way to show others who had doubted what I was doing, that I really could have a wonderful birth.
My first contraction finally came a few days after my due date at 10pm whilst eating dinner in a French restaurant. I had planned for a home water birth and so we excitedly returned home. Since the initial contractions were mild we caught some rest and then at 2.30am things started to happen. We got everything ready for the birth by - we lit a huge fire, the candles, made a nutritious milkshake, made pots of raspberry leaf and nettle tea, put on the soft music as we began what turned out to be a very long labour. I felt so calm and in control and was so sure that the Hypnosis was going to work.
Unfortunately my midwife who had been really supportive of my Hypnosis was unable to attend the birth and so another midwife, a complete stranger, turned up to take care of me. She had never been with anyone who had used Hypnosis and was obviously a bit sceptical so insisted that she had gas and air if I needed it. However, in my notes, which I read afterwards, she kept commenting on how relaxed, in control and calm I was.
I can truly say that until the last quarter of an hour I had absolutely no need for any painkillers and that my breathing and dreamlike state kept me completely in control. My second midwife arrived after about 6 hours and did not actually hear me speak for 3 hours even, though my contractions were 3 minutes apart. My husband would occasionally ask where I was to which I apparently replied "away with the fairies" or "on a beach" - these were images I had used in my Hypnosis.
Another amazing 'feature' of hypnosis is called 'time distortion'. This is when you tell your mind that things take far longer or shorter than they do in reality (like being in the cinema and it seems like you have been there for several hours rather than just 2). I therefore felt that the time between each contraction was more like 15 minutes rather than 3 and so felt more able to relax and prepare for the next one.
When I was finally fully dilated my midwife checked the baby's heartbeat just before I started to push. Very calmly she told us that his heartbeat had dropped substantially and I would need to deliver out of the water. She knew we had to deliver the baby really quickly and suggested that I have an episiotomy. As there was no time for a local anaesthetic we did not even question her advice. This was the first time I felt real pain. I feel that there were two main reasons for it - one was that I had not built this into my Hypnosis programme and secondly that I needed the adrenaline from the pain to push my baby out in the shortest possible time. The power and energy I felt was quite remarkable so I believe that the pain really helped me to ensure my son was born safely.
Unbelievably, Joseph was born just 4 minutes later. He was absolutely fine and within a minute took his first breath, coughed slightly and then looked up at me with calm blue eyes. He did not cry out or seem distressed in any way. We massaged him gently and put him straight on my breast. He latched on immediately for his first drink (and has not really stopped since!). All those who came in contact with him commented on how calm and alert he was. I am sure this was partly due to my constant communication with him in utero and my continual reassurance during the birth that he was safe and soon to have a wonderful cuddle with his parents.
In discussions later with my midwife, she reiterated how amazed she had been at the apparent power of the Hypnosis. She was particularly astonished at my ability to push him out so quickly especially as I had been vomiting throughout the labour and my energy levels were extremely low. At the time I really felt that nothing extraordinary was happening - it was only in hindsight that I realised just how well the Hypnosis had worked. In fact I was so convinced with the potential behind hypnosis that I am now planning a career change and have started training to become a Hypnotherapist. I have already had several people, who had been sceptical before the birth, ask if I would help them with their next birth!
Maggie now runs courses on hypnotherapy for birth preparation, and has produced a CD especially for women planning a home birth. For more information, and lots of birth stories, see her website: Natal Hypnotherapy (www.natalhypnotherapy.co.uk) -
For more links on self-hypnosis, see 'Pain Relief at Home Births'.
Back to Home Birth Stories
Home Birth Reference Page